How Wildfires Start: What to Watch For May 15, 2017 – Posted in: Blog

Wildfires are dangerous events. They destroy land, livestock, wildlife, and are even responsible for the death of residents and emergency responders like firefighters trying to put out the blaze.

During California’s drought conditions, wildfires were prominent and devastating to both nature and property in different parts of the state. In 2017, we’ve already seen wildfires sweep across Colorado, Kansas, Texas and Oklahoma. This fire swept across four states and destroyed hundreds of square miles of developed and undeveloped land. This wildfire was so severe that 22 of Oklahoma’s 77 counties were affected — leading the state’s governor to declare a state of emergency.

How do wildfires start? There are several reasons, with some being related to nature and others related to actions taken by humans.

The best way to fight a wildfire is to prevent it from happening in the first place. Here is a look at common reasons why wildfires start, as well as tips for staying safe should you find yourself in an area where wildfires are present.

How Do Wildfires Start?

Wildfires happen due to both nature-made and man-made causes — though humans are the most common cause (responsible for causing about 90 percent of wildfires). Here’s a look at different wildfire causes:

  • Burning brush: It’s far easier to burn brush than it is to haul it away. But burning brush can often get out of control and lead to a fire spreading, especially during dry seasons or droughts. Wildfires that char hundreds of miles can start with a simple brush fire.
  • Campfires: An unattended campfire used for heat or cooking can also lead to a wildfire. If you’re going to build a campfire, make sure it’s always attended and that you take the proper safety precautions.
  • Cigarettes: A cigarette carelessly thrown down to the ground can lead to a wildfire, especially when conditions are dry.
  • Arson: People occasionally start a wildfire intentionally — this is a very serious crime. These people are caught, charged and convicted.
  • Lightning: Humans aren’t always the cause of wildfires. Storms often bring conditions that cause wildfires, especially when it is dry lightning. When this happens, lightning can spark a fire, and there is no accompanying rain to put the fire out.
  • Lava: In some cases lava from volcanoes can cause wildfires in the surrounding areas.

Exactly How Do Wildfires Form?

It’s hard to imagine a carelessly dropped cigarette butt starting a massive wildfire, but that is the reality. Humans often get it started, but nature takes a wildfire to another level.

Have you ever seen a sign that says “no burning” or something to that effect? You may see signs like this at fire stations when natural conditions are greatest for wildfires. These natural conditions may include drought. If it has not rained in some time, dry grass, trees, brush and other natural formations are fuel just waiting to be lit. High winds are also a condition for wildfires, as they can help a small and contained fire spread and become an uncontrollable blaze.

Firefighters are trained to use traditional methods and advanced methods in fighting wildfires. In Western states where wildfires are most common, teams of specialized firefighters are ready at all times. They also take proactive measures like controlled burns to remove brush that may cause a wildfire later.

Stay Safe During a Wildfire

What should you do to stay safe in wildfire conditions? Follow these tips:

  • Have a Plan: If you live in an area prone to wildfires, know what you are going to do and where you are going to go before an emergency occurs. Create an emergency kit that includes first aid supplies, a battery operated radio, clothing, medications, blankets and other needed personal items.
  • Clear Your Dead Plants and Brush: If you have dying vegetation near your home, clear it away. Dead vegetation is all that wildfires need to keep spreading. Make sure it doesn’t spread to your doorstep.
  • Install Smoke Alarms: Make sure your home’s smoke alarms are always fully functioning. If a wildfire strikes without notice, you will want to know as quickly as possible.
  • Listen to Authorities: In places where wildfires are common, authorities will use the news and other media to communicate with those who might be affected. If you’re told to evacuate, do so immediately.